Oskar Schell is a young boy that was let out of school just about the time school started on that "worst day." He walked home with his friends, stopping to buy a juicy juice. He ran in to his apartment building, exchanging barbs with the doorman and went up to his apartment. There was no one home at his apartment, he just did his regular routine, including playing the messages on his answering machine. He heard his dad's voice...not once, not twice, but 6 times. Oskar turned on the TV to see what was happening and he knew...he knew what it meant.
This movie tells the incredible story of how a young boy relied on his father and their games and interactions to get through his life; the life he felt was very strange. He admits that he's different, that doctors thought he might have Asperger's, but the tests were inconclusive. He's scared of the subway, the train, people, crowds, yet his father had helped him find a way to make his way in the big city of NY by giving him "reconnaissance missions" as a way to force him to talk to people. Oskar shook a tambourine when he was nervous or scared on these missions. The biggest of all missions, became finding the owner of a key that Oskar found after his father's death. It was in a small envelope with the name "Black" written on it. He was hoping that this key and the mission would bring him closer to his father.
As a mom of a child with Asperger's, this movie was very emotional to me. There is the aspect of a child losing a parent on 9/11, which is already heartbreaking, but the mannerisms and words that Oskar uses makes me visually replace him with my son....how would my son react; would he hurt in the same way; would he be able to go on?
In my opinion, I felt the writer, director and cinematographer did a great job of showing what going through a tragedy like this would be like for a child with Asperger's. There are times that he spews out voluminous amounts of words....about his fears; about numbers and facts that he knows, based on the situations at hand or just in general; about things that he did on that terrible, awful day. Once he finds that key, he goes to an obsessive length to find every "Black" in the phone book, writes them all down, grouping them by boroughs, figuring out their map coordinates, and exactly how long it would take to see all of them. As I watched this, I found it amazing that this is how his brain works. It made me wonder if this is how MY son's brain works. The tantrums or meltdowns that Oskar had were mild in comparison to what my son and many other children with Asperger's or Autism have. But I thought it was technically correct to add those in to the movie, as a child with Asperger's would most definitely suffer with meltdowns after the death of a parent.
There were many ironic shots that I loved...there was a scene with Oskar sitting in his class at school, watching a wasp trying to get out of the window. At the same time, his father was in the top of the World Trade Center, trying to get out. There is a scene where Oskar takes "The Renter" (who is renting a room from his Grandmother) on one of his missions. The Renter, who is from Germany and we later find out was held in a concentration camp, gets scared when he sees a train rumbling over tracks.
There were shots that showed the world through Oskar's eyes...running by the train, the way it looks when he walks through a crowd of people. The noise magnified. The sound of water dripping in the bathroom, how noise gets SO loud that he has to cover his ears with his hands. To me, this was a great way to show what Oskar was experiencing.
Before this movie was released nationally, there were many negative reviews on the young actor who portrays Oskar. I wrote about them previously...here. I was very upset about the way people described Oskar, such as "grating, excessively shrill, and someone you don't really want to spend two hours with." After seeing the movie, I still don't understand where they get these ideas from. Oskar's voice was not monotone; his voice had regular high and lows in his speech. It's obvious that he is very bright, numbers and counting seem to be his thing, and really had a small number of meltdowns, given what he was dealing with.
The website, Rotten Tomatoes, has a collection of both positive and negative reviews. Here are some of the negative:
- "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" is the kind of movie that you want to punch in the nose. Tom Long, Detroit News
- The kid gets under our skin through a combination of pity and sheer irritation. Kelly Vance, East Bay Express
- Innocent Oskar and his isn't-life-wondrous adventures left me disappointed, depressed, and somewhat irritated. Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Obviously, these reviewers have no knowledge of Asperger's and what a child with this disorder (not disease!) sounds like, acts like, or goes through in their life! The actor portraying Oskar does NOT have Asperger's, but he does a wonderful job (in my opinion!) imitating what a child would do. Also, this "isn't life wondrous" reviewer apparently did not watch the movie closely, because it's obvious that this boy is hurting...he even takes to pinching himself to make him stop hurting!
Some of the good reviews I have found are as follows:
- Thomas Horn makes the film! The emotion he manages to evoke in a single scene is brilliant. He captivated me and had me living with him through the emotions. Jolene Mendez, Entertainment Spectrum and JoReviews
- As a portrait of what happens to a family when its glue disappears, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close wrung a bucket of tears out of me. Kimberly Jones, Austin Chronicle (this is only one sentence of the review, the rest is slightly negative)
- Horn delivers a star turn at as Oskar, a child trying to make sense of a tragedy that still baffles us. Rafer Guzman, Newsday (although I don't think it's possible to have a "touch" of Asperger's!)
There were not as many positive reviews to be found, but I take exception with what the majority of the reviewers claim as a negative...having 9/11 in the movie. In my opinion it works...because that shows the phone calls, the struggle of a child trying to make sense of the impossible, it plays on his fears of tall buildings, airplanes, noise, and without the fact that his father died on 9/11, many of the people helping him along the way would not be so willing to help a child.
I cried at least a box of tissues in this movie. Not only was it sentimental, and emotional, but it pulled at my heartstrings, thinking of my son being in that position. There were incredibly sad moments as well as some light-hearted ones, due to the things our wonderful kiddos with Asperger's say...not meaning to be funny, but they are!
There is so much more I could say about this movie, but I'll save it until some more of you are able to see it. I don't want to give anything away that creates the basis of what makes this movie so great! (in my opinion) Let me know what you guys think after you've seen this movie!